19 May 2011

So many choices, so few options

Newt Gingrich the once iconic former Speaker of the House declared himself a candidate for president and quickly put his foot in his mouth.  In his press release he said that he was against Paul Ryan's Medicare plan because it was too radical and that he advocated an approach that gave seniors choices.  The news has broke that low and behold Mr. Ryan has been hurt by Gingrich's comments, "With allies like that, who needs the left?" Ryan reportedly replied.  We already knew Mr. Ryan was terribly thin skinned when he was offended by President Obama's speech back in April.  But it seems Gingrich has pissed off the wrong rich white guy this time.

The more interesting comment Gingrich made however was his implication that seniors should have a choice.  This is a common motif in the United States - that everyone should have choices.  Currently there is legislation that pushes for greater choice in education, where to build new construction (the WI wetlands bills), how and where to carry firearms, etc. (notice that missing legislation includes lifting the regulations on marriage).

Do we really have choices?  We have about as many choices across our lives as we have at a supermarket or McDonald's.  The menu at McDonald's is loaded with appetizing/disgusting meals that are all essentially the same.  At the store, there are boxes of "New and Improved" this or that and every one of them is exactly the same.  The voucher schools offer parents more choices but the schools are essentially the same.  Put more bodies in them add more troubled students and less funding and the result is a private MPS school.  No difference.  Google the headlines for the news and every source reports on the same story.  It's a little strange, almost eery.

But this is what we do as people in America.  We create the same thing over and over again in different packages and with different marketing slogans to try to entice the gullible and fickle among us (ourselves) into shelling out more cash for something we already have and don't need or for something we want because it seems so familiar but we already have dozens of.  Franchises have spread across this country faster than kudzu.

Each subsequent Cousin's that opens or Taco 
Bell or Target or any other shop looks, smells, sounds, and acts the same, and sells almost exactly the same products. 

The result of all of this is that we get many choices but very few options.  The differences between our choices are small enough to be insignificant.

Some will argue that generic brands cost less money and therefore are a different option.  But that is beside the point.  The real issue at stake is quality.  The generic brand is the same product as the known brand name product - just without the catchy slogan and advertising (propaganda) budget. 

On At Issue this afternoon, the guest was talking about shopping at the less expensive grocery store in order to stick to a budget.  If there were anything we should be paying more for, I would think it would be food.  Yet our choices remain limited to the large shopping markets.  Recently Coops have been getting more popular and some active citizens are pushing for more people to buy locally grown foods.  This is a great start to reclaiming real options.

Nonetheless, we should ask ourselves, is the society we really hope to live in the one we are building?  The US is one of only a couple of developed nations that does not offer a universal health care option.  Yet the private insurers offer no distinct options and we still spend 20% of our GDP on health care.  You'll get about the same lousy coverage on your own from every insurer and the rates will be comparable across the board.

The history of this development spans the past five or more presidential administrations.  Since the late 70's the US has been commandeered by supply-side economics and the free-marketers expect everything to get sorted out on its own.  Hogwash.  The result is each of us has less freedom to choose than we did before the Reagan revolution.  Prior to the big franchise operations like Walmart and Walgreens, etc. there were local shops that specialized in local products.  Those days are old hat but may be reemerging in shops like the Outpost and in farmers' markets.

Welcome to the days filled with a plethora of choices but a shortage of options.

What do you think?  Do we have fewer options and more choices?  Or are there significant distinctions between our choices?
"The world is out of its mind with stupidity and the worship of stupidity.  You're either willing to be part of all time or you're going to limit yourself to being part of the current time."   Sean Penn
Robert Frank (see The Wealth Report over on the right) blogged about the rich moving more money overseas.  People commented that it was Obama's fault.  But that's ridiculous.  The wealthy have been investing overseas in emerging markets forever.  In the 60's it was almost fashionable for Americans to renounce their citizenship in order to not pay taxes.  Traditionally, one of the habits of the wealthy is to invest a significant percentage of funds in emerging markets - some analysts recommend as much as a third.  So it's ignorant to blame anyone for this "news".  It is how the wealth is earned.  The people who think that politics plays a part in the actual habits of the wealthy are not paying attention.  It is quite the reverse.  It's actually kind of a good sign for our economy that the wealthy are starting to feel confident enough to start investing again.  That could bode well for us dingoes riding the coattails of the rich waiting for the scraps.  
Two more days to the Rapture, have you got your attire picked out?  If you're looking for ideas, look no further, you aren't the first person to wonder this.  The Stranger is happily passing out advice.
Lastly, have you been wondering about what happened to the Confederate States of America after the Civil War?  Well they are currently being occupied.  You can join their list and read all of their exciting news right here: http://confederatestatesmilitia.ning.com/.  They are planning to secede but this time through non-violent means.   Maybe they won't have to worry.  After the Rapture, the Bible belt will be as slimmed down as Ireland after the great potato famine.

Good night!

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